Markets Make You More Trusting, but Not Necessarily More Trustworthy

Michael Giberson

In a randomized control experiment, subjects unconsciously primed to think about markets were more trusting in a subsequent anonymous economic exchange. The authors note that the positive effect of trust on economic growth is well documented — in particular, widespread market activity requires people to trust anonymous strangers — but scholars have been divided on whether markets promote trust or tend to undermine it. The authors’ report that market priming leads subjects to become more trusting of anonymous strangers.

While market-primed first movers in the exchange were clearly more trusting, market-primed second movers showed only a small,  statistically insignificant, positive effect on trustworthiness. In each case the comparison is to similarly situated subjects exposed to a neutral priming exercise. You might sum it up as: markets make you more trusting, but not necessarily more trustworthy.

The study is “The causal effect of market participation on trust: An experimental investigation using randomized control,” by Omar Al-Ubaydli, Daniel Houser, John Nye, Maria Pia Paganelli and Xiaofie (Sophia) Pan. The authors are all with George Mason University but for Paganelli at Trinity University (Texas).

ABSTRACT: In randomized control laboratory experiments, we find that those primed to think about markets exhibit more trusting behavior. We randomly and unconsciously prime experimental participants to think about markets and trade. We then ask them to play a trust game involving an anonymous stranger. We compare the behavior of these individuals with that of a group who are not primed to think about anything in particular. Priming for market participation affects positively the beliefs about the trustworthiness of anonymous strangers, increasing trust.